Value creation in start-up discourse: linking pitch and venture through logics of
Germán Varas, Université de Rennes 1, France
Omar Sabaj, Universidad de La Serena, Chile
Clay Spinuzzi, University of Texas, Austin, USA
Miguel Fuentes, Universidad de La Serena, Chile
Valentin Gerard, Université de Rennes 1, France
Paula Cabezas, Universidad de La Serena, Chile
How do start-ups create value through the language of their business pitches? In this article,
we investigate that question by identifying the logics of justification they use, traditionally
conceptualised as orders of worth. In this study of short written pitches in a six-month
Chilean accelerator program, we describe how we detected logics of justification through
pitch language, and we identify (a) co-occurrence patterns among logics of justification, (b)
associations between logics of justification and industry sectors, and (c) associations between
logics and a firm's customer segment (B2B, B2C). This study provides unique insights into
how start-ups sometimes justify innovations by using specific patterns of language depending
on a venture's features.
Keywords: Entrepreneurship, Pitch, Orders of worth, Start-up discourse, Accelerators.
How do start-ups create value through the language of their business pitches? In this study,
we explore how entrepreneurs legitimize their innovations in their target markets by
appealing to context-related logics of justification (Boltanski & Thévenot, 2006) in the pitch
format. These logics of justification help them to convey value to complex audiences,
legitimizing their innovations; they are a meaningful resource for framing the start-up’s
offering as valuable to the target market.
This framing is critical, since start-ups must innovate and express their innovations through
their start-up pitches. Innovation is a complex process which motivates a change in social
practices (Chesbrough, 2003) in a target market. However, such change does not occur
simply by introducing the innovation. Rather, entrepreneurs must take strategic actions to
make the innovation valuable to the target market, valuable enough to motivate the market
to change its practices. To do this, entrepreneurs must justify how legitimate or valuable their
innovations are “within some socially constructed system of norms, values, beliefs, and
definitions” (Suchman, 1995, p. 574). To create these justifications, they use discursive
strategies to persuasively frame their products or services for a particular market (Gillespie,
2010), set their innovations apart from competitors (Hargadon & Douglas, 2001), and
produce resource flows and capital acquisition (Lounsbury & Glynn, 2001) from skeptical
sources (Aldrich & Fiol, 1994). Thus, entrepreneurs’ start-up discourse involves a set of
claims that they strategically articulate to justify the value of the innovations.
But not all justifications work equally well. They are restricted by the context, specifically
the industry sector, market, or market niche (see the “ecological perspective” identified by
Überbacher (2014). For instance,
• To gain legitimacy in their target markets, start-ups tend to draw on certain
prototypical narratives, as shown in many research studies (e.g., Baron & Markman,
2000; Chen et al., 2009; Cornelissen & Clarke, 2010).
• To disrupt a given industry, they tend to justify the value of their innovations by
crossing the boundaries of such prototypical narratives (e.g., van Werven,
Bouwmeester & Cornelissen, 2015; Taeuscher, Bouncken & Pesch, 2021).
• To defend a valid position within a specific market category (EdTech, ecotourism,
etc.), they may claim distinctiveness so that they can persuade stakeholders that their
venture is legitimate and differs from other members of the same category (e.g., van
Werven, Bouwmeester & Cornelissen, 2015).
Such narratives are commonly conveyed through the pitch format (Sabaj et al., 2020). By
examining this link between pitch and venture attributes, we can better understand how start-
ups use language to describe the value of an innovative product or service, and thus how
start-ups gain legitimacy in their target markets and customer segments. We can also
associate the logics of justification with non-linguistic features, such as the business model
and the industrial field to which the innovation belongs. Our approach allows us to contribute
to the body of knowledge related to legitimacy (e.g., Lounsbury & Glynn, 2001) and
language use (e.g., Daly & Davy, 2016a, 2016b; Díez-Prados, 2019) in entrepreneurship. In
addition, it lets us tackle one of the main criticisms provoked by Lounsbury et al. (2018): that
linguistic research seems overlapping and disconnected, “opening up questions about the role
of different linguistic constructs in the production of meaning” (p.7).
In this article, we examine how entrepreneurs, after being trained in a six-month Chilean
accelerator program, justify the value of their products or services by appealing to specific
logics through short promotional written pitches. These pitches are meant to be the first
discursive device through which potential venture capitalists may form a preliminary
judgement about the start-ups’ relevance. We ask: How do start-ups create value through the
language of their business pitches according to unique features, such as industry and business
model? To answer this question, we identify
• possible language patterns realizing logics of justification,
• possible co-occurrence patterns among logics of justification,
• possible associations between logics of justification and the innovation’s customer
segment (B2B or B2C), and
• possible associations between logics of justification and specific industrial fields.
Below, we first provide a theoretical framework of the creation of value, including what value
is, the construction of the value proposition, and our proposal of logics of justification. Next,
we describe our methodology. Third, we present our discussion and results of our analysis.
Finally, we provide some projections and future steps in the study of value in innovation
2. Creation of value
2.1 Value as a construct
The term value (Muniesa, 2011) is widely used in both ordinary language and scientific
literature. Value has been discussed by different disciplinary fields, such as philosophy,
sociology, and economics (e.g., Almquist et al., 2016; Mazzucato, 2018).
From a philosophical perspective, McGilvary, Pitkin, Overstreet and Spaulding (1913) (cited
in Muniesa, 2011) considered the nature of value. Was it something definite, that sticks to
things independently of consciousness or an organic being with desires and aversions? Was
it a characteristic that a thing has in relation to the consciousness of an organic being? Was
it an organic being with desires and aversions? Dewey (1923) responds that “there are no
such things as values, but things that have the only, experienced, but indefinable quality of
value.” Thus, “speaking of value is merely a convenience to refer to an object, event or
situation that possesses the quality” (p. 617). Following Dewey, Simmel (1978) proposes that
‘value is never an inherent property of objects, but rather a judgement that subjects make
about them’ (p.3). Similarly, Walras (1984) argues that the notion of value has no meaning
outside the market sphere, since goods do not have an intrinsic value. Rather, they acquire it
in the market through the meeting of supply and demand. In the market, goods go through a
complex assembly of evaluations. The result expresses the conditions of acquisition (by
producers) and use (by consumers). Thus, evaluation (appraisal resources) and valuation (in
which the act of making something increases its value through language) are related
(Muniesa, 2011; Vatin, 2013; see Varas, 2020).
From this discussion, we argue that value is mainly a discursive construct—one that is critical
for venture success (Chicksand & Rehme, 2018). This linguistic dimension of value has been
materialised in the term value proposition (discussed below).
2.2 Value propositions in start-up discourse
In start-up discourse, the creation of value has been frequently materialised in the so-called
value proposition: a declaration of tangible and intangible benefits that a company delivers
(Lanning and Michaels, 1988). Value propositions allow companies to express an identity
and benchmark their value against competitors. By iterating their value proposition, a start-
up can improve its claims, change those claims, or recognize its competitors in the market.
Value propositions are “the heart of a pitch” (Spinuzzi et al., 2018). They allow start-ups to
• present a market opportunity to prospective business partners (Spinuzzi et al., 2014);
• create a strong first impression, opening doors to future dialogue and opportunities
for advancement (Verma et al., 2017, p. 716);
• successfully persuade investors (Clark, 2008, p. 257; van Werven et al. 2019); and
• entice an investor to provide resources (Pollack et al., 2012, p. 916).
As the core of a pitch, a value proposition is the central claim that identifies how a firm can
bring specific value to specific stakeholders. Thus, the value proposition must identify two
key elements: the problem and the market.
Drawing on Callon’s actor-network theory (Callon, 1984), Spinuzzi et al. (2018) establish
that the problem and the market can be considered as two related types of arguments:
• Problematization involves determining whether a problem exists and justifying it is
painful enough to disrupt an assemblage of material relations.
• Interessment involves establishing the potential actors who are relevant to the
problem; defining and characterizing them; extracting their agreement that the
problem is pressing; and providing an acceptable path to addressing the problem
(Callon, 1984, p.196).
Problematization and interessement are frequently modified before a pitch is delivered,
especially in early-stage start-ups, whose technology is fluid and markets have not yet been
well defined (Spinuzzi et al., 2018). Indeed, London et al. (2015) found that entrepreneurs
iterate value propositions along at least four rhetorical dimensions:
• Argument: Why does this innovation bring value?
• Application: To what should this innovation be applied in order to bring value?
• Design: How should this innovation be changed to bring value?
• Financial model: To whom can this innovation bring value?
If a service or product fails in bringing value, the value proposition should be then modified
or even abandoned.
After the start-up elaborates the value proposition, two post-pitch activities emerge:
• Enrollment: The start-up coordinates with other actors with related interests (such as
customers, partners, and distributors).
• Mobilization: The start-up and other actors consolidate their interests through forming
an alliance (Spinuzzi et al., 2018) and through complying with regulatory agencies
These two moments force entrepreneurs, when elaborating the pitch, to anticipate possible
clashes of value among potential stakeholders involved in technological development.
For an example of a clash in values, consider the case of a French smartphone app whose
purpose was to measure noise in cities and guide pedestrians through quieter, healthier, and
more secure streets. While scientists behind the technology claimed that their app could
increase people’s quality of life, third parties questioned the benefits. On the one hand,
influential real estate brokers expressed their concern because the price of housing would
increase or decrease depending on the noise measures, and, on the other, the city mayor
warned that the app could provoke social discrimination towards certain neighbourhoods.
Unfortunately, the start-up could not balance both civic and market concerns in its value
proposition. Consequently, investors stepped away from the project.
In this case and others, language is critical for conveying value. Business communication
researchers have typically researched this role of language by studying narrative or
storytelling. By exploring entrepreneurs’ stories, researchers have accounted for discursive
resources that may lead to business success (acquisition of capital, profits, etc.), such as
metaphors or inductive reasoning (Cornelissen & Clarke, 2010), affective or passion
language (Baron & Markman, 2000; Chen et al., 2009), narratives (Bartel & Garud, 2009;
Martens et al., 2007), reasons or arguments (Birley and Westhead, 1994; Fernández-Vázquez
& Álvarez-Delgado, 2020a), legitimation frames (Überbacher, 2014) and 'stacked' Goffman
frames (Belinsky & Gogan, 2016), and editing patterns strategies (Cabezas et al., 2020).
Yet, although these efforts have helped us to understand how entrepreneurs describe business
ventures, their emphasis has been on the language used to describe value rather than on the
offering’s value itself. That is, they examine metaphors, arguments, and frames, but as surface
features that function as ways to reflect existing value. In contrast, we argue that the value is
not just described in start-up pitches, it is in part created in those pitches. And it is created
by articulating and connecting logics of justification.
2.3 Logics of justification
Above, we gave the illustration of the French start-up that could not balance both civic and
market concerns in its value proposition. One way to understand such value clashes is through
Boltanski and Thévenot’s (2006) orders of worth framework, which links economic value
with moral values in questions of common good. From the vantage point of this framework,
people call on different logics of justification to develop compromises across value clashes
(such as clashes between civic and market concerns, as in the French start-up case). They
develop justifications for these compromises, justifications rooted in multiple logics.
According to Boltanski and Thévenot, these justifications anticipate potential challenges
from different quarters (tests of worth), but also comply with norms of industrial logic. This
latter point suggests that the industry sector may constrain the use of logics of justification
and successful entrepreneurs are aware of this.
The original framework (Boltanski & Thévenot, 2006) includes six orders or logics of
justification (Table 1):
• Market, in which “worthy objects are considered in terms of profit maximisation and
• Industrial, which “emphasises science, productivity and instrumental relationships”
• Traditional or domestic, which values “attachment, hierarchy, and honesty”
• Civic, which emphasizes “civic solidarity, the collective and delegation”
• Inspired, which emphasizes “charisma, creation and uniqueness”
• Fame, based on “reputation, public opinion, and success” (Finch et al., 2017).
Recent developments of the theory include new orders, such as information, green (Thévenot
et al., 2010), and network (Boltanski & Chiapello, 2005).
Table 1. Logics of justification in start-up discourse.
Description based on B&T (2006, p.237)
The value of technology is based on affective aspects that inspire, move,
excite. Tradition and routines (such as educational practices and family
rituals) are broken. Therefore, the disruptive, the new, the amazing, the
fanciful, the revolutionary are revealed.
The value (usually of superiority) of people (or technologies) is based on
characteristics related to tradition, generation, hierarchy, provenance,
trajectory, etc. Family life, routines, customs and conventions are
emphasized. The sense of belonging is emphasized. Memories and former
ways of doing things are important.
The value of technology is based on the possibility that third parties
acquire recognition, credibility or esteem. There is a desire to be
recognized and respected. Being recognized and identified is something
valuable. Appearing in the media is a good thing. Fame allows you to
The value of technology is based on aspects that favor the collective well-
being or express the general will. There is aspiration for civil rights,
political aspirations, participation. Representatives are authorized and
confirmed. The particular is renounced and solidarity and transcendence
are exalted. Immediate interest is waived. The search for a cause is
The value of technology is based on aspects that favor the acquisition of
capital goods, that is, enrichment. Competition between rivals comes into
play. The figures of the millionaire and the winner appear. Love for
things, desire, selfishness, success, wealth is exalted. Entrepreneurs,
sellers, customers, buyers are among the participants. There is an
emotional distance and a closeness to possession. It seeks to foster
relationships to buy, obtain, sell, do business, benefit, deal, pay, compete.
The value of technology is based on aspects that favor or improve
production processes, for example, in terms of efficiency and
effectiveness. Among actors entering the game, it is possible to find:
professional people, experts, operators, people in charge. Tools, resources,
methods, tasks, plans, lists, charts, calendar, objectives, quantities,
probabilities, factors, etc. are exalted. Among the objectives, the aim is to
start up, use machinery, make it work, interact, need, integrate, organize,
control, stabilize, order, anticipate, implement, adapt, analyze, determine,
standardize, optimize, solve, process.
These logics are “repertoires of evaluation consisting of moral narratives and objects that
enable tests of worth” (Hanrieder, 2016, p. 397). These repertoires function as inventories of
discursive elements; justifications are subject to “requirements resembling those of a
grammar” (Boltanski & Thévenot, 2006, p.140), including actors, objects, qualifiers, and
actions which are deployed in harmony:
To the extent that it is identified in reports, the natural order in a given world can
be described via categories defining subjects (the list of subjects), objects (the list
of objects and arrangements), qualifiers (state of worthiness), and relations
designated by verbs (natural relations among beings). (Boltanski & Thévenot,
2006, p. 140)
Researchers have used the orders of worth framework to analyze various research objects.
For instance, Gossi et al. (2021) used it to describe how members of a rural community
justified their position on housing cost. Chiapello and Fairclough (2002) used it to explain
the discourse of a management guru textbook. Annisette and Richardson (2011) described
how justifications can be applied to accounting research.
By articulating beings, objects, qualifiers and relations, entrepreneurs can anticipate value
clashes in an industry. In this sense, a start-up’s business pitch elaborated at the end of an
acceleration program may not necessarily qualify as an argumentative device (in the pragma-
dialectic tradition: Fernández-Vásquez & Alvarez-Delgado, 2019). Rather, it positions the
offering in a field with competing norms, ethics (Fernández-Vázquez, & Álvarez-Delgado,
2020b), values, and beliefs. Entrepreneurs can access these industrial fields by referring to
specific orders of worth. Consider this pitch within the Information and Communication
Technologies (ICT) industry:
Company X is a social network with a vertical approach on food and nutrition.
Everybody in X can share their recipes and discover right away all the detailed
micro and macro nutrients, thanks to our technology that automatically identifies
the nutrients contained (calories, proteins, carbs, vitamins, minerals, etc.) and the
diet (vegetarian, vegan, fitness, etc.). X is the community for the creation and
sharing of recipes in the pursuit of taste, nutrition, and conviviality. Find the
perfect meal based on your taste and needs, give value to your food and X-ergize
In the above pitch, the start-up describes the value of its proposal by appealing to different
logics of justification, for example, through industry (e.g., obtaining results “right away” or
identifying objects “automatically”), civic (e.g., it is offered by “the community”) and
inspiration (e.g., “based on your taste and needs”). Eventually, such logics comprising the
pitch address at least two issues: first, the alignment with the ICT industry (results obtained
right away, automatic identification); and second, the alignment with the customer as part of
a community that cares about healthy food and needs personalised information.
By adopting a social dimension, the justification framework (Boltanski & Thévenot, 2006;
Passetti & Rinaldi, 2020) has contributed to several recent discussions on value creation (e.g.,
Muniesa 2011). These theoretical and empirical reflections account for value mainly from an
argumentative stance around economic issues. But in this article, we instead approach
justification as instantiating value through lexico-grammatical units that can realize semantic
patterns related to value (see Methodology). Through this linguistic approach, we can
identify traces of what constitutes worth across and within the pitch, a genre through which
entrepreneurs seek to establish legitimacy in particular industries.
Below, we describe our methodology for investigating how start-ups create value through
their pitches according to their unique features (industry and customer segment).
3.1 Research questions
We investigate the following general question: How do start-ups justify their innovations
according to their unique features (industry, customer)? To answer this general question, we
have posed four specific questions:
• How are values realized in language? What are the linguistic patterns in which value
justifications are realized in short entrepreneurial pitches?
• Are there any co-occurrence patterns among logics of justification?
• Is there any association between logics of justification and the innovation’s customer
segment (B2B or B2C)?
• Is there any association between logics of justification and specific industrial fields?
Our dataset consists of 105 short promotional written pitches. These pitches were composed
by start-ups in the G-17: a portfolio of companies that were trained in 2017 for 6 months.
They received their training at Start-up Chile, an accelerator program financed by the Chilean
government to promote entrepreneurship and innovation. These pitches are in English, which
is the language promoted by the organization as an internationalization strategy. (Indeed, the
Start-up Chile website is fully translated into English).
According to the official website, “since 2016, the new objectives of Start-Up Chile are to
maintain Chile as one of the most important centres of technological entrepreneurship and
innovation in the world and that our start-ups have a positive impact on the local economy.”
As of 2021, it has supported 1,960 start-ups and is valued at US$2.1 billion.
Two authors emailed Start-up Chile executives, who agreed to provide data to conduct this
research following ethical procedures. The project in which this specific research is
embedded was reviewed and declared exempt by the Institutional Review Board of
Universidad de La Serena, Chile (second author´s affiliation).
The pitches in our dataset were submitted by the start-ups when they applied for the program.
At the end of the program, Start-up Chile executives ask the start-ups to update their original
written pitches for promotional purposes; they do not instruct the start-ups how to complete
this task. These iterated pitches reflect what each start-up has learned after six months in the
The pitches are the first discursive devices through which potential venture capitalists may
evaluate the start-ups’ offerings. After the 6-month training, the pitches are published on the
website of Start-up Chile permanently, as part of the portfolio of firms supported by the
accelerator. Pitch texts usually range between 15 and 70 words; the start-up program does
not impose a stable structure.
Table 2 shows the pitches that we analyzed, organized by industry and customer segment.
Some industries are covered by start-ups with specific business models: the educational field,
for example, tends to attract B2C start-ups, while ICT tends to attract B2B. Education,
financial services and ICT correspond to the industries including most of the start-up
innovations of our dataset.
Table 2. Description of start-ups by field and customer segment.
Supply Chain services
Information and Communication
Technical Assistance Services
The start-ups comprising our dataset had already been identified and socialized by Start-up
Chile as belonging to a particular industry. This categorization process has been broadly
researched from sociological and cognitive approaches (see Granqvist & Siltaoja, 2020, for
a literature review). The boundaries between categories are often indistinct. For example, a
start-up categorized as “financial service” could have also been identified as ICT. Similarly,
the generic category “Others” included 13 start-ups which could have been more specifically
Finally, our research team categorized customer segments. We categorized these based on
linguistic clues included in the pitch (e.g., “firms,” “companies” for B2B; “you,” “persons”
for B2C). Cases with unclear business models were identified as “both.” For example, we
categorized the pitch
Lotion to restore the healthy state of bovine's teats, specially designed to prevent
bovine mastitis in dairy herds
as both, since the product could be based on a B2B, B2C or B2B2C customer segment.
3.3 Data analysis
We identified the logics of justification via an inductive and a deductive analysis.
3.3.1 Deductive analysis
To detect how logics of justification (orders of worth) were realized in pitch language, we
first conducted a deductive analysis (e.g., Bitektine, 2011; Bitektine & Haack, 2015), based
on the original inventory provided by Boltanski and Thévenot (2006). In this analysis, we
identified and labeled lexis (vocabulary) related to logics as well as populating our own
database. For this identification task, we built a master description (Table 1) that guided our
research team in recognizing lexical items that realize the logics of justification. To ensure
credibility and trustworthiness of data and results, we conducted three rounds of analysis:
1. Round 1: Refining the master description. Two authors analyzed all pitches using
the analysis matrix (Table 3), which included the ID of the pitch, the written pitch,
and the logics identified. We discussed disagreements to improve the master
description and propose better prototypical examples to guide Rounds 2 and 3. After
this first analysis, authors agreed that the Tradition logic was not present in the start-
up pitches, which suggests that references to “hierarchy,” “trajectory,” “routines,”
and “customs” are usually left out of the meaning-making process of disruptive
innovations. With this initial result, authors decided to exclude the Tradition logic
from the matrix analysis.
2. Round 2: Reanalyzing the pitches with the refined master description. Three
authors participated in a new identification task. This task resulted in a few
disagreements, especially in cases evoking affective meaning in the Inspiration logic.
(Research based on the orders of worth framework never refers to problematic cases,
which is suspicious since meanings are not always inscribed.)
3. Round 3: Inductively elaborating a list. The first author reviewed all cases and
inductively elaborated a list (see 3.3.2) in which words were grouped according to
their semantic patterns. Appendix 1 presents the analysis and the identification of all
lexical items for each logic of justification.
Since more than one logic could be found in a pitch, we elaborated a matrix that included
occurrences of logics of justification according to customer segment and industry. This
matrix allowed us to examine the correlation among the logics. We used Pearson correlation
(p<0.1) to analyze the relationship between logics and the two non-linguistic features that led
our specific questions: (1) type of industry and (2) business model of the start-ups under
3.3.2 Inductive analysis
The fine-grained analysis of lexico-grammatical realizations found along the deductive
analysis (“cultural vocabulary”: Gillespie, 2010) allowed us to identify semantic patterns
(Appendix 1), which comprise the logics of justification. By semantic pattern, we refer to
certain meanings that are regularly conveyed in discourse to create value. In concrete terms,
a semantic pattern corresponds to an inductive label that groups lexico-grammatical
realizations according to their shared meanings. For example, in the case of Industry logics,
realizations such as “diminish energy expenses,” “reduce risks and errors,” and “identify
inefficiencies” are characterized, on the one hand, by meanings with a negative denotation
(“energy expenses,” “risk and errors,” and “inefficiencies”) and, on the other hand, by actions
which, in the industrial field, are positively valued (“diminish,” “reduce,” and “identify”).
For instance, when lexico-grammatical realizations referred to problems or challenges
targeted by the start-up, they correspond to a pattern we labelled “Problem-Assistance.”
When lexical realizations referred to time efficiency in industrial activities (such as “raise
information in real time,” “saving time” and “know beforehand”), they correspond to the
pattern we labelled “Time.” Such semantic patterns constitute the “core values” of a business
pitch; through them, specific types of start-ups construct meaning in pitch structures
according to their industry sector and business model.
Although our research considers a dataset corresponding to English pitches, such semantic
patterns could be detected in other languages as well.
Table 3. Synthesis of logics of value and semantic patterns, including absolute and relative
frequencies (words in bold correspond to realizations of logics of value).
Linguistic realization examples
remote sensor sampling
machine learning algorithms
facilitates interpretation of
clear and effective
high quality financial advisory
diminish not only their energy
reducing risks and errors
to measure drinking water
to analyse and process a vast
raise information in real time
saving 90% of the time in this
being close to their kids
until now, there was no…
your team's games
when and where you want
your favourite music
easy and for all!
help in emergencies
Paying a few bucks per month
cost-effective flight offers
best flight offers
reach global customers
penetrate mobile e-sports
get value out of their data
earn ongoing revenue
get more sales
relationship with the community
stimulate social development
entertain, educate, and inform
address the problems of huge
magnitudes in our society
recycling chain sustainable
prepares deaf people
helps optimum child
the first travel community
with more than 250.000 users in
reaching 23.000 users in only
In this section, we first present our results in terms of the language patterns and, then in terms
of the associations between logics, business model and industry sector.
4.1 Language patterns
Along the 105 pitches, we found 381 instances of logics (Table 3). The most frequent logic
exploited along pitches corresponds to Industry (59%), followed by Inspiration (17%),
Market (13%), Civic (9%) and Fame (2%).
• Industrial logic presented six well-defined semantic patterns in our dataset: Tools
(34%), Simplicity (17%), Quality (14%), Problem-Assistance (13%), Industrial
Process (13%), and Time (9%).
• Inspiration logic presented five semantic patterns: Emotional appealing (40%),
Uniqueness (29%), Personalization (14%), Encouragement (9%), and Security (8%).
• Market logic presented four semantic patterns: Market strategies (39%), Convenience
(29%), Opportunity (20%), and Profitability (12%).
• Civic logic presented four semantic patterns: Sociality (33%), Development (24%),
Environment (24%), and Health (18%).
• Fame logic presented three patterns with low occurrences (2% of the sample):
Reputation (56%), Impact (22%), and Outreach (22%).
4.2 Associations between the logics of justification, industry, and business model
Figure 1 summarizes our results corresponding to the association between the logics of
justification, the industry, and the business model.
Figure 1. Correlations between logics, industry sector, and business model (p<0.1). The
coefficient ranges between -1 (blue for negative correlation) to 1 (red for positive
Figure 1 demonstrates that Inspiration logic behaves differently from the other logics.
Inspiration logic tends to be negatively correlated with Industrial logic in a single pitch (-
0.23): if the pitch contains Industrial-related meanings, it is highly unlikely to also contain
In fact, the correlation analysis for the business model shows a clear opposition between
Industrial and Inspiration logics in the pitch structure. The B2B customer segment is
positively associated with Industrial logic (0.3) and negatively associated with Inspiration
values (-0.4). Conversely, the B2C segment is positively associated with Inspiration logic
(0.43) and negatively associated with Industrial logic (-0.33).
Our analysis of logics and the industrial sector revealed significant results that allow us to
understand how entrepreneurs try to position their innovations for their markets. The
Agriculture sector correlates positively (0.2) with Industrial logic, which is mostly realized
through meaning patterns associated with Tools, Simplicity, Quality, Activity, and Time
(Table 3). The Culture sector is positively associated with Inspiration meanings (0.19) and
negatively correlated with Industry logics (-0.17). Interestingly, the Education industry
correlated positively with two logics, i.e., Inspiration (0.24) and Civic (0.17). The Energy
sector presented a positive correlation with Civic logic (0.48), the highest in our model. The
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector correlated negatively with
Inspiration (-0.17). Finally, the Supply chain sector correlated positively with Market logics
(0.18) and the Technical Assistance service correlated positively with Industrial logics (0.17).
The lexico-grammatical items that realized logics of justification accounted for clear
semantic patterns through which entrepreneurs justify value in discourse. When interpreted
along with the extralinguistic variables, semantic patterns allowed us to understand how start-
ups created value in innovation.
For example, Industrial logic is mostly applied by start-ups with a B2B model and operating
specially in the Agriculture and Technical Assistance Service sectors. Accordingly, start-ups
which offer value to other firms tend to deploy specific industrial-related patterns, such as
Tools, which groups all lexical realizations (mostly through noun phrases) regarding state-
of-the-art technical objects used in industrial processes, such as “remote sensors” and
“platforms.” By referring to these technologies, entrepreneurs can discursively frame their
technologies in an industry market, but they can also position their solutions around what is
possible. This discursive positioning depends on “terms and ideas that are specific enough to
mean something, and vague enough to work across multiple venues for multiple audiences
(…) as ‘platform’, ‘network’, ‘channels,’ and other structural metaphors” (Gillespie, 2010),
Other patterns deployed under the Industrial logic correspond to Simplicity, Quality,
Problem-Assistance, Industrial Process, and Time.
• The Simplicity pattern is expressed through lexical realizations related to simplifying
or improving industrial tasks (adverb and verb phrases; adjectives). It is often used to
convey customer support: “interact easily,” “facilitates the interpretation,” and
• The Quality pattern groups all lexical units that positively value the delivered services
or products (mostly adjectives). Examples include “clear and effective,” “high
quality,” and “truly smart.” In this pattern, meanings are often intensified to increase
value (e.g., high, truly).
• The Problem-Assistance pattern groups all lexical units related to actions trying to
solve industrial problems (verb phrases whose meaning is complemented by the
direct object, which corresponds to the problem). Examples include “identify
inefficiencies,” “diminish expenses,” and “reducing risks and errors.” Since problems
are to be attacked, verbs included in this pattern refer to scaling down the obstacles
• The Industrial Process pattern appeals to key actions performed within a firm, such
as “measuring,” “analyzing,” and “visualizing.”
• The Time pattern groups all lexical realizations whose meaning is related to the
efficient use of time (mainly through verb phrases and adverbial structures).
Examples include “saving time,” “know beforehand,” and “in real time.”
Inspiration logic, mostly used by entrepreneurs operating under a B2C model, was mainly
related to the Culture and Education sectors. Indeed, our results revealed that start-ups
appealing to this logic of justification often deploy Emotional patterns, which groups all
lexical units that inscribe or evoke a positive sentiment in the reader, such as “close to their
kids,” “birthday,” and “fun.” In exploring how emotional appeals are used in entrepreneurial
pitches, Fernández-Vázquez and Álvarez-Delgado (2020a) found that emotive language is
useful to reinforce rational arguments but they are not persuasive on their own, which may
explain why, in the Education industry, Emotional patterns correlate also with Civic values.
As we expected, for B2C, start-ups also deploy the Uniqueness pattern, which groups all
lexical units referring to how unique or novel a product or a service is (especially in the
Culture industry). Examples include “limited edition,” “unique experience,” and “until now.”
Under Inspiration logic, we also found
• The Personalization pattern, which mainly groups lexical indexers referring to the
potential client, such as “your team,” “where you want,” and “your favourite music.”
This type of meaning may work as a communicative strategy of customization in B2C
• The Encouragement pattern, which groups all lexical units whose meanings evoke
efficiency-related product features. Examples include "easy and for all” and
“effortlessly”). Like the Personalization pattern, the Encouragement pattern also
targets B2C. It is especially used in the field of education, where “immediate
learning” is a central value.
Finally, although it is not necessarily related to Education or Culture sectors, we also found
the Security pattern, which groups all lexical items whose meaning refers to clients’ safety
(such as “emergencies,” “safety,” and “emergency situation”).
In terms of Market logic, the Market Strategy pattern groups all lexical units (mainly noun
phrases) referring to key objects belonging to the entrepreneurship practice, such as
“affiliations,” “partnerships,” and “crowdfunding.”
Interestingly, by identifying and describing lexico-grammatical realizations, we found that
Market logics are brought into discourse not only by B2B start-ups but also by B2C. In the
case of B2B, the Opportunity and Profitability patterns grouped all lexical units (mainly
through verb phrases) whose meaning refer to potential benefits for sellers, firms, or start-up
owners. Examples include “reach global customers,” “penetrate mobile e-sports,” “get value
out of their data,” “earn ongoing revenue,” “get more sales,” and “earn money.” In the case
of B2C, the Convenience pattern grouped all lexical units whose meaning refer to how
convenient something is for clients, such as “paying a few bucks per month,” “cost-effective
offers,” and “best flight offers.”
In relation to Civic logic,
• The Sociality pattern groups all meanings referring to society and wellbeing, such as
“relation with the community,” “stimulate social development skills,” and “entertain,
educate, and inform.”
• The Development pattern groups meanings related to society development, such as
“social projects,” “problems of huge magnitudes in our society,” and “emerging
• The Environment pattern corresponds to sustainability-related issues which are
important for today’s social development, such as “recycling chain,” “carbon
footprint,” and “energy consumption.”
• The Health pattern refers to people impacted by the firm, such as “impaired people,”
“deaf people,” and “help child development.”
In terms of Fame,
• The Reputation pattern groups meanings referring to the trajectory of the firm or
firm’s members, such as “the first travel community,” “senior,” and “extensive
• The Impact pattern (22%) groups meanings referring to the extent to which the firm
is recognized, such as “world’s top” and “nationwide.”
• The Outreach pattern groups all lexical units whose meanings are meant to increase
value through the intensification of an achievement—mainly through fuzzy quantities
(Varas and Sabaj, 2020) such as “more than 250.000 users” and “reaching 23.000
By analyzing the relationship among logics of justification, we found that Inspiration logic
correlates negatively with Industrial logic, which is consistent with the association between
these logics and the start-ups’ business model. Start-ups with a B2B business model are
positively correlated with Industrial logics and negatively correlated with Inspiration values,
while those with a B2C model are positively correlated with Inspiration logics and negatively
associated with Industrial values. We also found that the Health industry and the Culture
sector tend to be targeted by B2C start-ups, while the Environment industry tends to be
targeted by B2B entrepreneurs.
These results validate common beliefs in the marketing field: that B2B content should be
“professional” and “growth-oriented” while B2C content should be based on “inspiring,”
“controversial,” and “impulsive” feelings. Most importantly, the association between
Industrial logic and the B2B business model accounts for the fact that B2B innovations try
to improve their customers’ sustainability: as the semantic patterns suggested, start-ups can
improve customers’ sustainability through innovations offering time efficiency, key
industrial activities, problem assistance, tools, simplicity, and quality.
Finally, regarding the association between logics of justification and the industry sector, we
found that the Agriculture and Technical Assistance Services sectors both correlate with
Industrial logics, which indicates that start-up entrepreneurs aim at helping the business
customers improve their industrial processes. While the Agriculture and Technical
Assistance sectors are targeted through Industrial logics, the Supply Chain Services sector,
perhaps due to its economic nature, correlates with Market logics. That suggests that for this
sector, start-ups principally added value by allowing other firms to adopt certain market
strategies, take advantage of market opportunities and generate profits.
The correlation between the Energy industry and Civic logic is the highest in our model, and
maybe the most relevant one. From a global perspective, this result suggests that the Energy
sector is a more conservative industry. Thus, entrepreneurs have a constrained array of logics
for justifying and gaining legitimacy in the field.
This relationship between energy and Civic logic is reflected in policy discourse. According
to Certomà and Corsini (2021), in the last 10 years, policy discourse including civic concerns
about innovation, environment and digital technology has increased exponentially. One
reason is the effects of social movements: Sectors such as renewable energies, socially
responsible investment, sustainable forestry, and recycling are considered “moral markets”
(Georgallis & Lee, 2020). Georgallis and Lee (2020) suggest that moral markets can attribute
some degree of their existence, growth, or survival to mobilization by social movement
activists. Interestingly, these authors indicate that “moral markets are typically supported by
organized actors motivated by moral or normative considerations rather than only by the
pursuit of economic interest.” (p.51). Thus, we are not surprised to find a correlation between
the energy industry and Civic justifications, since Civic claims can work as entry credentials
for entrepreneurs interested in this market.
Education is particularly interesting since it is the only industry that is positively correlated
with both Civic and Inspiration, which might suggest that the Education sector may be also
a “moral market,” just like renewable energies, sustainable forestry, and recycling
(Georgallis & Lee, 2020).
In the case of Fame, although non-significant correlations were found (probably due to its
low frequency, only 2% of the dataset), the analysis revealed some associations with the
Culture industry, where start-ups tended to valorize their reputation (the first travel
community), impact (nationwide) and outreach (with more than 150,000 users in Latino
America). These semantic patterns would not be suitable to exploit in other industries.
By examining the relation between pitch and venture attributes, we can better understand
how language describes the value of start-up offerings and how start-ups may gain legitimacy
in their targeted markets. In extending research on legitimation strategies (e.g., van Werven,
Bouwmeester & Cornelissen, 2014; Taeuscher, Bouncken & Pesch, 2021), we have
examined how entrepreneurs create value in short pitch discourse by identifying logics of
Based on our results, entrepreneurs, researchers and students interested in designing effective
pitches should be aware that
• discursive patterns can appeal to certain logics of justification
• logics of justification tend to be associated (and disassociated) coherently in pitch
• specific associations exist between types of justifications and field sectors (e.g.,
education, agriculture, etc.)
• logics of justification used in written pitches are affected by the client segment (B2B,
This research confirms that markets have not only an economic side, but also a social
dimension where it is possible to find moral, ideological, and power dynamics (Ritvala,
Granqvist & Piekkari, 2021). Both dimensions—economic value and social values—merge
in the notion of “value” (worth). Thus, we claim that entrepreneurs justify the value of their
projects not only based on an attractive economic proposal (a promising business model) but
also through a series of discursive elements whose use is consonant with contextual factors,
such as the segment of customers and the market to which they belong. This aspect is well-
known by social media writers working for different client organisations (Dailey, Treem &
Ford, 2016). Thus, our results demonstrate that the pitch of a start-up is not only a rhetorical
device for the creation of value, but also a dispositif that allows entrepreneurs to align with
‘organizational restrictions’ (Di Maggio and Powell, 1983) that arise from the relationships
between incumbents and clients dominating certain business areas.
Our deductive-and-inductive methodology has allowed us to find clear semantic patterns
accounting for the logics of justification, which may play a role in start-up value creation in
particular industries and markets. However, the identified semantic patterns are not
definitive. Indeed, a further study considering longer business pitches and other languages
and cultures may add other patterns as well as configurations. In practical terms, identifying
semantic patterns associated with logics of justification may be helpful for learning how to
design value propositions, such as in the canvas models that are usually taught at business
schools. Thus, our patterns can be considered to elaborate on the ‘characteristics’ of the value
delivered to customers. Our study not only offers data-based categories, but it also reveals
how they correlate to create value in discourse.
By identifying logics of justification, we can see how appeals to different audiences are
tightly layered in a single statement. In this way, the research is similar to Belinsky and
Gogan’s (2016) autoethnography of pitching. But whereas Belinsky and Gogan used
Goffmanian frames, which are not systematically associated with each other, the logics of
justification provide a rationale for uniting or connecting different logics, and consequently,
we can identify clear patterns in the data that indicate how the pitch appeals to multiple (or
multiply situated) audiences.
Researchers should further explore how successful the different configurations are. However,
our findings suggest that some markets are more closed or ‘conservative’. For example, we
found that the Energy Industry correlated uniquely and significantly with Civic (the highest
value in the model) while Education correlated with Civic and Inspiration logics. Based on
these results, we suggest that an effective pitch should avoid appealing to logics that are not
socially relevant for a given market (as Inspiration would be for Energy).
Finally, in terms of projections, future researchers should explore several aspects further. For
example, the pitches in our sample did not appeal to Tradition-based justifications. Why? It
is possible that this logic is not appropriate for start-up discourse, which tends to be
associated with change. Alternately and more narrowly, it is possible that this logic is not
appropriate for the fields represented. Conducting a second study along these lines, with a
different sample, could further shed light on this missing category of justifications.
In addition, different perspectives involving semiotic traces can be adopted to complement
our results. For example, new studies on value creation may consider not only written
material, but also oral and visual devices, which are critical in the elaboration process of the
pitch. Studies also may consider accessing participants’ direct discourse via interviews of
entrepreneurs (e.g., Williams et al. 2016), conducting detailed examinations of stakeholder
comments in process documents (e.g., Jakobs & Digmayer, 2020), conducting entrepreneur
autoethnographies (e.g., Belinsky & Gogan, 2016), or observing internal firm deliberations.
These approaches could allow researchers to further explore the editing strategies start-ups
use for their pitches. Each of these angles may expose different uses of logics of justification,
allowing researchers to trace how these logics interact at different stages and in different
venues as a pitch is developed.
We expect that our findings may be helpful for innovation practitioners, business schools,
and communication researchers to design pitches and value propositions that contribute
effectively to the legitimation process of start-ups.
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List of lexical units associated with each Logics of justification and semantic patterns
1. Industrial logic
on in real
nt and data
state of the
state of the
the first travel community
with more than 250.000 users in
reaching 23.000 users in only
Paying a few bucks
best flight offers
without a big
get more sales
penetrate mobile e-
get value out of
referrals, visits, and
anyone can pay
compra y venta
point of sale
prepares deaf people
helps optimum child
quality life index
problems of huge
magnitudes in our
relationship with the
recycle plastic waste
low impact in the
contribute to the
Chilean food agro
people must have
helps you [the
easy and for
being close to their
making a living
doing what they do
pursuit of taste
taste and needs
people who like
nature and with food
your team's games
when and where
at your own pace
stuff you love
you are looking
say goodbye to
on top of the
until now, there